Vanessa Steil

“Sometimes, when we think that something is the end of the world, it turns out to be the beginning.”

Vanessa Steil Alt

30 Stories in 30 Days

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. For the next 4 weeks, we will post stories written by cancer survivors, caregivers and friends for our 30 Stories in 30 Days campaign. We hope their perspectives and insight will help others along their journey.

I can still remember the anxiety I felt as I left the house the morning of my surgery and made the hour and a half trip to New York City to undergo a total thyroidectomy for a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. It would be my first time in a hospital and the last time that my thyroid would still be a part of my body. Five years later all of the emotions come flooding back to me—feeling indecisive about which surgeon and hospital to go with, worried about being under anesthesia, having my thyroid removed, and terrified thinking about being dependent on daily thyroid medication from then on.

The day of my surgery felt surreal. I arrived early to check-in at the hospital, where I filled out papers and changed into a gown. By late afternoon, a resident came in to speak with me about giving consent to use my thyroid for medical research, which I gladly agreed to. After that, it was go-time.

Heading to the operating room as a patient felt nothing like what I had seen on television. Nurses stopped us at random points to ask my name, date of birth, my surgeon’s name, and the type of surgery I was undergoing. I finally made it into the OR where the doctors and nurses began to get me ready for surgery. There, I was surrounded by faces I had never seen before and names I wouldn’t remember later on. The last thing I recall before waking up in the recovery room was making small talk with the nurses as they prepared me for anesthesia and put what smelled like a plastic beach ball over my nose and mouth.

My thyroid cancer diagnosis is still a defining event in my life. While my surgery was a success and I had no complications or post-operative issues, it marked the beginning of my new normal. Now I undergo blood work every few months to check my thyroid levels, go for neck ultrasounds, and see my endocrinologist regularly.

Before my surgery, I was worried about the scar on my neck not healing—and having it serve as a painful reminder of what I went through. But now, it is almost all but faded, and I’m sorry to think it won’t always be there.

I have grown and changed so much over the last five years. While being diagnosed with thyroid cancer was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to endure, I know that my path in life would be different today had that diagnosis not occurred.

Sometimes, when we think that something is the end of the world, it turns out to be the beginning.